What’s Your Christmas Soundtrack?

One day you’re walking through the shopping centre as normal, then the next day, WHAM!

Not just Wham, but Mariah Carey, Michael Buble and a host of others singing Christmas favourites. I think I first heard Christmas music playing as the soundtrack to my shopping experience back in late October this year.

For those who enjoy the music of the season, you’ve probably had a good couple of months of ever-increasing Christmas melodies ringing in your ears. For those who don’t, you won’t have to block your ears much longer.

I’ve got over five hundred Christmas songs on my iPod and they’ve been filling our home and car with Yuletide cheer … whatever that is … for weeks. Everyone from Michael Buble to Diana Krall, Bing Crosby, Run DMC, Barry White, The Wiggles, Guy Sebastian, Jimmy Barnes and even Russel Coight, along with many others, are singing about Christmas on our stereo.

What is your favourite Christmas music?

Do you have a favourite Christmas song? Do you have a favourite artist at Christmas time? Does Mariah Carey’s very successful Christmas album still get a spin at your place each December?

A few of my favourites.

I couldn’t possibly fit all my Christmas favourites in one post, but here is a handful.

I’m not a huge fan of the song Little Drummer Boy but I am a fan of both Bing Crosby and David Bowie so I love hearing their Little Drummer Boy / Peace On Earth medley around this time every year. The chat at the start of the video is cheesy and somewhat awkward but I just love it.

A new favourite this year is a reworking of the old Slade classic, Merry Christmas Everybody. Yes, I’ll admit it. I do enjoy a little Robbie Williams. I’m also a fan of Jamie Cullum so this combination is just joyful.

One of the strangest Christmas songs ever released has got to be this one by Bob Dylan. Bob is definitely a favourite of mine and so this one’s certainly worth a mention and a viewing. It seems that everyone in the video is having an amazing time, except Bob. It’s weird and wonderful.

This collaboration between Elvis Costello and Stephen Colbert is just wonderful.

I certainly feel that friends don’t let friends go through life without knowing about the great Gregory Porter, so I absolutely must include a song from one of the greatest voices of our time.

While I could go on forever with Christmas favourites, maybe I’ll finish off with this one from Diana Krall.

Let me know about your musical tastes around Christmas.



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It’s Happening Again

The eighties … a time of big music and even bigger hair. Yes, I’ll admit it. I had a mullet.

As the eighties started heading towards the brave, new world of the nineties, we hit 1987.

It was the year Aretha Franklin became the first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 1987 the world population hit five billion. It was also the year Microsoft released Windows 2.0. And in 1987, The Simpsons cartoon first appeared as a series of shorts on The Tracey Ullman Show.

In February of 1987, when I was 23, my mum succumbed to a long illness and passed away at just 66 years of age.

1987 was also the year that I first crossed Australia by bicycle.

Since then, I’ve cycled across Australia in 1988, 1990, 2000, 2003 and last year in 2018.

Let’s do it again.

If everything goes to plan, on Saturday the 18th of September 2021, I’ll begin my seventh bicycle crossing of our nation. I’ll start pedaling from Perth, Western Australia towards Newcastle, New South Wales. Ride for Compassion Coast to Coast will bring together around 30 cyclists riding for a common cause.

We will arrive at Compassion’s head office in Newcastle, NSW on Wednesday the 20th of October.

What is Ride for Compassion Coast to Coast 2021?

It’s a trek of over 4,000km from the beautiful beaches of Western Australia, across the barren inland of Australia, to the bustling east coast city of Newcastle. The participants in the Ride for Compassion Coast to Coast will test their stamina, while making a massive difference in the lives of children living in poverty.

The ride is set to start on Saturday 18 September 2021 in Perth and finish at Compassion’s head office in Newcastle, NSW on Wednesday 20 October. There’ll be 28 riding days and five rest days. The average distance to be ridden each day will be 150km, with almost 200km the longest distance for one hard day’s ride.

There is an expectation that all riders will undertake extensive training before the event, pay on-road costs, and raise significant funds for the work of Compassion.

Become involved in Ride for Compassion

To register your interest for the 2021 Ride for Compassion Coast to Coast, please visit the Ride for Compassion website.

Love to be involved, but not keen on cycling? We’re looking for volunteers to help with driving the bus and other support vehicles, preparing breakfast and lunch, first aid, hydration and other tasks.

Does this sound like you? Please visit the Ride for Compassion website for further information.

Why are we riding?

The ride will once again raise money for Compassion Australia‘s Highly Vulnerable Children’s Fund.

Every child in poverty is vulnerable, but some children are at risk of the most deplorable situations in the world.

Children whose parents who have left, died, or are unable to provide for them, children exposed to exploitation and children with special needs are highly vulnerable. They often find themselves on the edge of extremely dangerous situations like child labour, gang violence, trafficking, and life on the street.

Registrations for the ride open in early 2020 but if you’re interested in joining me on a bike or as part of the support team, head to the Ride for Compassion website.

I need to get fit. Really fit.

I used to keep a moderate level of fitness by cycling to and from work each day but my job hasn’t really allowed me to do that for the last six years. I need to get myself into better shape than I have ever been. I’m going to have to be strategic and focused if I’m to drop a bunch of kilograms and put plenty of kilometres into my legs. I’ll need to be able to ride around a thousand kilometres a week for just over four weeks.

Taking part in the ride will take a huge effort.

But every effort I make to be part of the ride will be worth it because some things are unacceptable. It’s unacceptable that millions of children are living in extreme poverty. In 2021 I’ll once again put my body on the line to do whatever I can to make a difference for as many of those children as I can.

Will you help me give more children a chance to live, dream and hope? Head to the Ride for Compassion website or leave me a comment on this post.



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Can I get a busy badge?

You’ve had the same conversation a thousand times. You meet up with someone who asks how you’ve been and you answer by telling them … ‘busy’. Their question isn’t about your level of activity, it’s about your personal wellness, yet you still feel the need to assure them that you’ve been a productive member of society. I know this because I get caught up in it too.

Many people have written about this before but it still seems to be such a problem for so many.

Busy speaks about a level of activity, often a flurry of exhausting exertion, without considering whether all that hustle and bustle is effective in any way. There may well be a more productive way of achieving what we need but when the goal is being busy, and telling everyone how busy we are, that doesn’t really matter.

Can I get a busy badge?

Why do we feel so compelled to assure everyone that we’ve been busy? Is that really the measure of our worth to others … or even our own attempt to justify our worth to ourselves?

I guess the starting point is convincing ourselves that ‘busy’ isn’t life’s ultimate aim. There’s nothing wrong with being busy when we need to be but it’s not the goal we should be seeking above all else,

Wasn’t technology going to save us all?

On top of the constantly growing expectations of others soaking up our time, we now add more busyness into the mix with our use of technology.

Advancements in technology promised us an easier, more productive life, yet all that seems to have happened is that we’ve lost the ability to switch off.

Our technology usage has blurred the lines between work and play like never before. We’re checking personal emails and social media updates while we’re at work and checking work emails and catching up on work projects while we’re at home or out with family and friends. That means that our employer never has our full attention and sadly, neither do those closest to us.

We’ve sacrificed that which should be most precious to us on the altar of frantic activity.

Hanging Out for Holidays

We’re a couple of days into December and well into what many call the ‘silly season’. The lead up to Christmas and New Year festivities pound us with activities and deadlines. Everything needs to be ‘finished before Christmas’.

Many of us take annual leave at this time and so we feel the need to complete every project on our desk before taking that leave. That usually means that we crawl across the finish line of the year, battered and bruised from the frantic pace we’ve held for the year, having just enough time to bandage our wounds and ‘almost’ recover before the whole thing begins again for the next year.

We’ve got to stop going at full speed towards the end of the year, imagining that we just need to get to the start of our leave so we can collapse in a heap.

We don’t just need that extended time to stop and refresh at the end of a busy year, we need time weekly and daily.

Jesus is coming. Look busy.

Sadly, those of us in the church have bought the lie that we have to be forever run off our feet too. In fact, a lot of the time we buy into the whole busyness thing even more because we have this strange image in our heads of God watching us and shaking his finger at us whenever we sit down to breathe.

This constant striving to work harder and harder within our daily lives and the church says more about our idea of who God is than anything else. If we imagine that we’d better look busy because we don’t want Jesus to catch us taking time out, we’ve missed the point entirely.

The truth is, God is the one who came up with the idea of rest. If we think God wants us to be constantly striving without rest, we’ve given in to a ‘religion’ that requires our efforts to appease God. That was never his plan.

It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.
Psalm 127:2 (ESV)

Been Busy?

The next time someone asks you how you’ve been, how will you answer? Will you keep on assuring them that you’ve been busy or will you give them a deeper answer that speaks about something other than frantic activity?

You know that the world will keep crowding out times of rest and recreation so how about being more intentional in planning time daily, weekly, monthly and annually for time aside from the craziness? Then once it’s scheduled, guard it jealously. Don’t let it be the first thing that gets bumped from the schedule when something ‘more important’ comes up.

If you’re too busy to schedule in those times it’s a very clear indicator that you need to say no to those things that scream for your time but aren’t necessarily beneficial. Learn to say no so that you can say yes to the right things in your life.

And don’t forget that we are spiritual beings. Spend time connecting with God. You might just discover he doesn’t want you to burn out trying to achieve your busy badge.

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or illfitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.
Matthew 11:28-30 (The Message)



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Can We Get a Refund?

Hey America, I’ve been looking around at all the wonderful days of celebration you have on offer and I’m wondering if we can get a refund. It seems we bought the wrong day.

I’m fine if you have a ‘no refund’ policy. A straight exchange will work just as well.

It seems that here in Australia we’ve bought into the whole Halloween thing you were selling. Yep, I know it didn’t originate with you, but we seem to have bought your version of the day anyway.

Every year in October our supermarket shelves are filled with more and more skeletons, pumpkins, ghouls and ghosts. We’ve bought the whole package from you and every year we see more and more children wandering the streets begging for ‘candy from strangers’, a thing we advise against for the other 364 days of the year.

I know that Halloween is often dressed up as simply a day for dressing up, but I think I’ll pass.

So, back to the whole refund thing, or as I say, perhaps a direct swap.

If we give Halloween back, can we have Thanksgiving?

Again, I know it’s not necessarily an exclusively American thing, but from my long-distance perspective, you seem to do Thanksgiving pretty well.

We have so much to cause us to be thankful in Australia, and while I would love to see a spirit of thankfulness and gratitude all year round, a day dedicated to counting our blessings would be a very good addition to our calendar.

There’s been some excellent work done around a National Day of Thanks down under but unfortunately, it hasn’t gained the widespread acceptance and celebration it deserves.

While I don’t quite get the whole turkey pardoning thing (I don’t even know what the turkey did to need pardoning) I do like the idea of being thankful to God for His blessings to us. I also like the idea of sharing that thankfulness among family and friends around a meal.

Being thankful seems to have so much going for it.

In a world that presses us to want and strive after more and more, pretending that it will eventually bring us some kind of happiness, it’s helpful to look at our lives and see what we already have.

On days when I’m low, a quick reminder of just how good I’ve got it will often get me through. I’m not saying it’s the answer to everything that troubles us but thankfulness or gratitude can have proven, very real, physical benefits.

Psychologists find that, over time, feeling grateful boosts happiness and fosters both physical and psychological health, even among those already struggling with mental health problems. Studies show that practising gratitude curbs the use of words expressing negative emotions and shifts inner attention away from such negative emotions as resentment and envy, minimizing the possibility of ruminating over them (a hallmark of depression). – Psychology Today

The simple act of being thankful and expressing thankfulness can make a real difference in our lives.

Studies show gratitude helps us build stronger immune systems, causes us to be less bothered by aches and pains, lowers our blood pressure, gives us higher levels of positive emotions, makes us more alert, alive, and awake. There are many more benefits including making us more helpful, generous, and compassionate, more forgiving, less lonely and isolated. What’s not to like?

So, maybe we won’t grab every aspect of an American Thanksgiving, but can we pinch the general concept from you?

I would be incredibly thankful if we could see our nation recognising what we have rather than what we don’t have. That doesn’t mean blindly ignoring important issues that need our voice and attention but ensuring that we also give our voice to gratitude and thankfulness.

So what do you say, America?

Do you think we can do a deal? If we try to find the box it came in, can we return Halloween for a great big box of Thanksgiving?


And no matter where you are in the world, I’d love to hear why you’re thankful today? Do yourself and your health a real favour by practising thankfulness and gratitude right now. Leave a comment on this post with some of the things that make you thankful.



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What am I going to do with a goat?

(This is an updated post from previous years.) If you’ve been to a shopping centre recently or watched any television, you’ll know that Christmas is rapidly approaching and there are plenty of businesses that are keen to ‘help you celebrate’ with their products. While the big day is still just under a couple of months away, we know that it all starts to ramp up from here.

Once again, I’m conflicted. If I’m honest, I don’t really need anything for Christmas. If no one bought me a gift for Christmas or any other occasion, I could survive. In fact not just survive but continue to thrive.

The conflict comes from the fact that I still enjoy receiving gifts. I love the unwrapping and the excitement of having something shiny and new. I also love the fact that people care enough to choose something for me.

It concerns me that while I’m enjoying lovely new things that I don’t really need, there are people in many parts of the world that don’t have the basics that they need to get on with the daily task of just keeping their families alive.

If Christmas is about celebrating Jesus, surely we should be doing something that honours him and his heart for the poor, rather than overindulging while most of the world goes without.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting we should all be miserable and not fully enter into the celebrations at this time of year.

Balance

I suppose that’s where we all need some kind of balance between the giving and receiving of gifts between friends and loved ones and our wider responsibility to those in need around the world. We live in a global village but most of the villagers are missing out.

Those of us who’ve been blessed by simply being born in the right place should spare a thought for those who only ask for the gift of life this Christmas.

I might not have a lot of use for a goat but for a rural family in a developing country, the simple gift of a goat could be just what they need to break free from poverty.

Compassion

So where do you buy a goat and how do you get it to someone who needs it? Compassion Australia’s Gifts of Compassion is open and ready for business. Their gifts help people who are battling desperate poverty.

They can take your money and turn it into a very real solution to poverty. You can buy everything from mosquito nets to a toilet block with lots more in between including chickens, cows, toothbrushes and baby vaccinations.

Your support really does make a difference.

I’ve visited churches partnering with Compassion in seven of the 25 countries where they’re working and I can personally vouch for the work they do. When you support those in poverty through Compassion, the aid really does make it to those who need it.

In fact, it was after seeing the work of Compassion that I decided that I would do all I could to advance their work which is why I’ve now been working full-time for Compassion for the last six years.

This Christmas I do want to receive something for myself, wrapped in thought and love, but I also hope that someone will give me a goat or a chicken or a health bundle for someone I’ll never meet.

What about you?

Go on … you’ve thought about it before but unless you let your loved ones know now it’ll never happen. Ask those you love to buy something for someone else this Christmas.



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